Says freedom, democracy, trust hallmarks of Norway’s independence
Emma Emeozor firstname.lastname@example.org
On May 17, Norwegians celebrated the country’s 204th independence anniversary. In Nigeria, the country’s ambassador, Jens-Petter Kjemprud, organised the ceremony at two venues, apparently to ensure that Norwegians and their friends across the country participated.
While Norwegians and their friends, including members of the Nigeria-Norway Chamber of Commerce, resident south of the country converged on Lagos, the nation’s commercial centre, on May 15, the rest converged on Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, on May 17. Kjemprud personally hosted both events, a gesture that highlighted the significance of the event.
As part of activities marking the anniversary, the bubbling envoy had an exclusive interview with Daily Sun on the how dear the celebration is to Norwegians, Norway-Nigeria bilateral relations, the role of Norway in world affairs and how he would want to be remembered after his tenure in Nigeria.
Kjemprud said the significance of the celebration was to be found in the “freedom, democracy and trust,” which emanated from the country’s independence. His words: “The 17th of May is an important day for Norway. This is a day when we celebrate values that are important to us: Freedom, democracy and trust.”
He briefly recalled the journey that ended in Norway’s independence, stressing that the country’s children and youth are usually the biggest celebrants. He said: “On this day in 1814 the Constitution of Norway was signed in Eidsvoll, declaring Norway an independent nation. However, Norway still ended up in a union with Sweden until 1905. The Constitution triggered a higher level of ambition towards Norwegian independence.
“With time, the day evolved into a celebration by and for the people that is still the largest celebration of the year in Norway. The celebration consists of children’s parade, marching bands, traditional customs and other festivities. Children have a special role in the celebrations. The biggest part of the event is dedicated to them. The children’s parades consist of marching, waving home-made Norwegian flags and carrying school banners.”
The history of Norway’s independence cannot be discussed without a mention of its former masters, Denmark and Sweden. A common feature in the history of colonialism is that even after independence has been attained, the relationship is often that of master and servant between the ex-colonial master and the former colonial territory.
But in the example of Norway, he stressed that, it is a relationship “of mutual respect and cooperation. We have much in common in our way of life, history, religion, language and social structure. The countries have a long history of political unions and other close relations.”
Asked what significant role Norway has played in reshaping the world since the end of World War II, the envoy pointed to areas of international cooperation, peace and sustainable development. His response: “Norway is situated in the northern reaches of the world, and has a very open economy. For our model to work, we are dependent on interaction and cooperation with countries, organisations and companies located elsewhere in the world. Consequently, Norway is a strong supporter of international cooperation to promote peace and sustainable development.
“We are committed to UN collaboration, and have almost 100 embassies, delegations and consulates across the world. And we are hugely supportive of international cooperation on trade, development and the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
Norway and Nigeria established diplomatic relations in the 1960s. What is Kjemprud’s assessment the relationship? While acknowledging the importance of Nigeria, he was quick to correct the thinking that ties between the two countries started in the early 1960s: “Nigeria is an important partner for Norway and the relationship between the countries is robust. The two countries have long ties as Norway has been exporting stock fish since 1890. Trade has been the constant denominator in our relationship, particularly within fisheries and shipping.
“The comprehensive cooperation within the oil and gas sector has further enhanced our relationship. We have many areas of complement across our two economies and a substantial potential for more cooperation in the future. The relationship between our two countries continues to grow in political relations, business and trade, in humanitarian affairs and cultural relations.”
The envoy also highlighted Norway’s major contributions to the development and growth of Nigeria, as a great ally of the most populated country in Africa. Kjemprud drew attention to the oil and gas sector and the supply of stockfish to Nigeria: “We have many areas of complement across our two economies.
“Over the decades, the Norwegian business community has had to solve a number of extraordinary challenges, such as shipping in the Arctic region, oil production on the seabed, and sustainable management of substantial fish stocks. This has made us become a global player in the fields of oil and gas, shipping, and seafood. These sectors are important for both countries that have enabled us to grow our cooperation over the years.”
Though the two countries enjoy robust bilateral relations, there remains the nagging question of imbalance in trade. The balance of trade remains in favour of Norway. In April 2017, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, lamented the development. Reports quoted him as saying: “There is trade imbalance in the bilateral relationship because Nigeria imports hugely from Norway but Norway cannot be said to be taking anything from Nigeria. This is not good for our economy.
“That is why we are advocating the need to invest and encourage research into the area of aquaculture and fishmeal production . . . we want Norway to come and invest in the fishmeal industry in Nigeria, to close the gap in this trade imbalance.”
Based on Ogbe’s remarks, the envoy was asked to comment on the balance of trade between the two countries and also name products Norway exports and imports to and fro Nigeria. His response: “The trade products so far have been within shipping, fisheries, oil and gas. The exact balance of trade between the two countries is difficult to give as many transactions are made within multinational companies and not all trade figures are actually broken down.
“However, we estimate annual trade between the two countries somewhere between 30 and 40 billion NOK annually ($6 billion). The balance of trade is still not balanced and we work actively with our partners to attract more Norwegian investment to Nigeria.
“To enhance the trade and investment between our two countries, the Nigerian-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce was established in 2016. Its mandate is to create a platform to facilitate trade and investment, remove perception barriers and mitigate transaction risks.
“Nigeria presents viable investment potential with the wealth of human capital, agriculture, mineral resources, infrastructure and value added manufacturing. There are currently over 50 Norwegian companies in Nigeria and we hope to see this number increase.
“We particularly see a potential for more cooperation within the oil and gas sector, especially in renewable energy. Norway produces 36,000 megawatts from hydro power for five million people while Nigeria produces, on a good day, 3,600 megawatts for 200 million people, which means that Nigeria has to produce its power from generators and from the use of diesel, which is expensive and does not benefit manufacturing in the country.”
Commenting on the implementation of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) and the Nigeria Joint Declaration on Cooperation, Kjemprud said: “the signing of the Joint Declaration on Cooperation was an important step for both sides to express their commitment to further enhancing bilateral economic relations. Norway will take the initiative to invite Nigeria to a first meeting with EFTA to discuss the implementation of the Joint Declaration on Cooperation.”
The envoy also commented on the issue of security, following the activities of Boko Haram and militants in the Niger Delta region, problems of lack of good governance, corruption and ethnicity and the way forward for Nigeria.
“This is a very complex matter. I believe, in addition to the government’s continued asserted efforts to fight terrorism and corruption, while also building up the economy, religious leaders are crucial to peace and stability. The authority of religious leaders in their communities allows them to do valuable work on the front lines of religious extremism. It is important to address de-radicalisation, demobilisation and reintegration of negative actors in insurgency or elsewhere,” he said.
Kjemprud is not new to the Nigerian environment. He has been familiar with happenings in Nigeria long before being posted here to serve as Norway’s ambassador in Nigeria. Unknown to many, his solid background has helped him to aclimatise to the Nigerian environment. Thus, he was upbeat when asked what he enjoys most about serving in Nigeria.
“I was desk officer for Nigeria in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Abacha regime. Coming here to serve as democracy has taken firm roots and meeting actors who were then forced to be in exile now exercising their political rights inside the country has been encouraging.
“Meeting with forces who want to solidify democracy and modernise the political life along ideological lines rather than identity and personality politics, and discussing the challenges for organising strong political parties, trade unions, women’s organisations, youth movement and observing the depth of human capacity in this country, gives hope for a better future,” he said.
Asked how he would want to be remembered after his tenure ends, the diplomat in Kjemprud immediately came to the fore, as he selected his words carefully. Hear him: “I have no personal ambitions, but if the embassy can contribute to increase trade and cooperation and institutional relations in the fields of culture and education between the two countries, I would be happy. But above anything else, I would relentlessly insist that Nigeria will not change for the better without fixing its energy policy to give people and the manufacturing industry a decent offer of steady and safe supply through a national grid.”